Three months later
Chris glared at the two empty desks in the office, looking up at the clock and then back down to them again. The glare deepened and Josiah's comments didn't change a thing.
"Staring isn't going to change anything Chris. Vin and Ezra will get here when they can."
"Ten o'clock. Said they'd be in here by ten. Way I learned to tell time it is now quarter past 11. That comes well after 10."
"Yes Chris, that is how we all learned to tell time. What you need to learn is how Ezra tells time."
"I expect it from him Nathan. That's why Vin was with him."
Buck chortled from his safe spot behind his desk. "You really think pairing them up was going to make things go smoothly? Don't you ever learn cowboy?"
"Figured given the circumstances he was the best one to go with Ez. Didn't expect them to be gone all day is all I'm saying."
"We weren't. Ain't even noon yet." Vin was grinning broadly as he made his way into the office. "You can't really be surprised that he'd stay there longer today."
Chris shrugged a tad self-consciously. "Suppose not. But he's been at the shooting range every day for the past 3 weeks. Don't tell me he still thinks he needs to practice for the qualification test tomorrow?"
They all knew the answer. Despite the fact the doctor had signed off on what he was calling a miraculous recovery, and despite the fact Ezra was only going to be needing to wear glasses for reading fine print, he was still anxious about passing the final hurdle to having his active-agent status reinstated. Each man on the team had accompanied him on multiple occasions to the range to perfect his already exemplary skills, and no amount of convincing could persuade him that there was nothing to be worried about.
"Face it Chris," Nathan offered up the truth they all knew, "if he doesn't at least match his best score ever, he is going to see it as a failure."
"Well when we were out the other day he sure has hell looked like he knew what he was doing." JD had been seriously impressed by the display, even if Ezra himself had been less than pleased. "He didn't agree, muttering something about not being able to shoot out the ace. Asked him what he meant, but he just waved it off."
Josiah chortled. "That, JD, was an stunt he used to do to win bets against those foolish or naïve enough to fall for his act. Out of respect for his reputation, I'll forego explaining the details. Suffice to say he tended to go home with a fair bit of cash in his pockets."
After a quick internal debate, Chris decided not knowing the specifics of that gambit was for the best, so he turned back to Vin. "How did he do today?"
"Judge for yourself." He unfurled the first of two rolled up shooting targets he'd brought back from the range. It showed two perfectly clustered grouping – heart and head. Only one shot was off slightly to the left of the heart cluster, but still well within the accepted perfect shot range.
"I'm guessing he wasn't happy about the stray." Buck asked, knowing the answer.
"It did result in some rather colourful and out of character language from him."
Shaking his head, Chris reached for the second roll, but Vin held it back for a moment. "Not sure that this one should be seen outside of the office. Some folks might not take in the right way, and Ezra does not need to be spending time with the Agency shrink."
Concern was evident on all faces until they saw the silhouette. The faceless man now had all his features as bullet holes provided him with eyes, a nose and a smiling mouth.
Buck was the first to be able to put their relief into words. "He's back all right."
Ezra tapped lightly on the door to Judge Travis's office with the handle of his cane and obeyed the gruff 'come in' response.
"Pardon my interruption Judge. I just was hoping for a moment of your time, if you can spare such a valuable commodity."
Travis pushed himself away from the piles of paperwork he'd been grumbling over.
"Any excuse is more than welcomed, I assure you. Chris tells me you have your shooting test tomorrow. Once that is done we can get you back to work properly. Be good to have that happen."
"I am cautiously optimistic that there will be no alterations needed to that plan."
It was easy to see that Ezra was uncharacteristically ill at ease in the office. Travis eyed the cane with a hint of concern. "You aren't having any problems, are you?"
"This?" He held up the object. "Not in the way you are thinking. Trust me, this normally no longer accompanies me on my travels."
Travis waited for the explanation.
"Forgive me my inquisitiveness Judge. When Vin brought this to me on my first day out of the hospital he was able to share only a few snippets of the history. Other than the fact it was a family heirloom and, legend has it, once belonged to a less than reputable gentleman in the old west yet somehow ended up in the hands of your ancestor."
Travis smiled, relieved that this was nothing more than Ezra's inevitable curiosity.
"Like I told Tanner, the family story is that it belonged to a southern gentleman who settled in the old West after the Civil War. Apparently he got it – mostly for show I believe, after being injured saving my great-great-grandmother from a shooting."
"And it ended up back in your family?"
"Unfortunately, I don't know all the details. Oral history has a habit of slipping away."
Ezra looked down at it again. "And the initials? They are original to the piece?"
"Wondered if you'd noticed those. Have to assume they were this 'reprobates' initials carved into it. From the look of the item it seems likely he had a bit of a flare for – shall we call it flamboyance?
"I think I prefer elegant style as an appropriate descriptive."
"You would. I'd say they were a rather good sign you were meant to be the owner of the cane – wouldn't you?"
Gently rubbing his thumb over the spot once again, Ezra smiled. "It does seem to fit me, doesn't it?"
This time Travis hid the smile from his face. It was good to have Ezra back.
"Qualification should be done by now, shouldn't it?" JD was still more than a bit peeved that Ezra forbade any of them from coming down to the testing grounds.
"Promised he'd come straight back, regardless of the outcome. You can bet he won't break that one kid."
"Yeah, but -" Whatever he was going to say was silenced as the door to the office opened. There was no reading the expression on Ezra's face, which immediately fueled feelings apprehension. Chris was pretty sure they were being played since he had no doubt about the outcome of the test. The only concern was whether the grade lived up to Ezra's standards.
"Well?" He stared at his undercover man, waiting with barely concealed impatience.
"Our Mr. Tanner is safe in his standing as the top shot on the team. And in the ATF for that matter."
Not exactly stunning news to any of them.
"Don't care about rankings Pard."
"Of course not. That is part of the reason you succeed."
"For God's sake Ezra! Did you pass or not?"
"Really Buck - was there ever any doubt? Top 99th percentile. I'm back!"